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LISTEN: Full script of Episode 166 of Spodcast where we discuss Rohit Sharma's decision to open batting for Mumbai Indians, the IPL schedule and more

Welcome to Spodcast, the sports update on Firstpost where we cover the big headlines of the day.

With the IPL just three days away, Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma confirmed that he would open the batting for his team. He said on Tuesday, “This year I will open the batting for all the games that is for sure.”

 LISTEN: Full script of Episode 166 of Spodcast where we discuss Rohit Sharmas decision to open batting for Mumbai Indians, the IPL schedule and more

File image of Mumbai Indians players in a huddle before an IPL match in 2018. Image courtesy: SPORTZPICS for BCCI

Sharma had juggled between different slots in the last edition of the IPL. He started off opening the batting in the first two games, but after scoring just 15 and 11, he sent himself down to number four and then shifted between 3, 4 and 5 for the rest of the games. Over the years, he has juggled between opening the batting and playing in the middle order to help the team find the right balance.

He explained, “(Opening in the World Cup)...is one of the factors but also keeping in mind that this is where I bat, that is my position where I play for India also. And that is where I have got a lot of success of late, opening the batting. And the team does understand that. The composition of the players that we have right now, we've got some experience in the middle order that allows me to bat at the top of the order. Probably this season, I will try and do that. I will try and open in every game possible.”

The team hopes Yuvraj Singh’s inclusion will stabilise a middle-order that was hit-and-miss last year. Zaheer Khan, Mumbai Indians' director of cricket operations, said, “Bringing Yuvraj in the squad has been a boost because of the match-winning ability that he has... we have identified that we need an experienced batsman who can control the game in the middle. Since Rohit has decided (to open)...we need that experience also in the middle order. And who better than someone like Yuvraj.”

Mumbai Indians are also keen to improve their performance in the final overs. They suffered five last-over losses last season as nerves flared up during crunch situations. Sharma said, “In that situation, whoever is handling the job, whoever is at the helm of the responsibility of that particular situation needs to take care of that. Whether it's a batsman needing 15-20 runs off the last over, or a bowler defending 10 or 15 runs...how he can deal with that situation. So it lies on the individual at that particular time.”

Interestingly, veteran bowler Lasith Malinga, who was a mentor of the franchise last year, is back as a bowler for the Mumbai Indians. Hardik Pandya’s fitness is being monitored and Zaheer is backing him to recover from the relapse of the Asia Cup injury that ruled him out of the Australia series at home. He said, “...he is pretty much aware of where things stand but in the longer term, he knows what are the things to be needed to get rid of those issues permanently.”

The full schedule of the 12th season of the Indian Premier League was announced on Tuesday by BCCI. Chennai Super Kings will play against old rivals Royal Challengers Bangalore in the opening match on 23 March in Chennai.

The schedule makes no mention of playoff dates or venues. Earlier, the BCCI had released the schedule of the first two weeks of the tournament. This year, due to the Lok Sabha elections scheduled from 11 April, the IPL had to be advanced.

The league stage comprises 56 matches over 43 days. The last league game will be played on 5 May between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. The schedule for the playoffs and the final is expected to be announced soon.

Former India cricket captain and Delhi Capitals Team Adviser for the upcoming IPL, Sourav Ganguly, said Indian skipper Virat Kohli should bat at No 3 in the 2019 World Cup.

Team India head coach Ravi Shastri had told the media that Virat could bat at No 4 in the batting order at the showpiece event, and that triggered many discussions around Kohli's batting position. However, Ganguly is of the opinion that Kohli should continue batting at No 3, a position where he has found unparalleled success. Ganguly said, “He is a big player. He can make runs anywhere in the batting line-up but I believe No 3 is most suited for him.”

Ganguly dismissed the notion that the current ODI team is heavily dependent on Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah. He said, “I don't think...we are too dependent on Virat and Bumrah. Every generation has produced champions and Virat Kohli is an absolute champion as well. I don't believe that if Virat does not perform, this team won't perform. Look at Rohit's records. Look at Shikhar's records. Look at MS Dhoni. I find Kedar Jadhav very sharp. He knows what he does at No 6. Then the bowling attack. Bhuvneshwar Kumar did very well in the opportunities he got against Australia. This is the side which does not have many weaknesses.”

Ganguly had recently said Cheteshwar Pujara should be India's No 4. That raised many eyebrows because Pujara has not been a regular in the Indian team for a while now. Ganguly said, “I took Pujara's name because he is such a good form. I have seen Rahul Dravid play in my time at No 4 and 5. If you are running out of options in that position, then you can consider him. But I do believe that Pant and Rayudu are also good options.”

Speaking about his role with Delhi Capitals in the IPL, Ganguly said, “Our focus will be to improve these young cricketers skill-wise. All of these cricketers have started successfully.”

The closure of Pakistan's air space in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrikes has resulted in India losing the hosting rights of the junior Davis Cup and Fed Cup, according to a PTI report.

Sixteen U-16 Davis Cup teams, including Pakistan, were to travel to India for the annual competition, often dubbed the World Cup of tennis. The competition was to be held at the DLTA complex from 8-13 April while the Fed Cup matches were scheduled from 15-20 April. Both the tournaments will now be held in Bangkok, Thailand.

PTI quoted a source in the national federation as saying, “Pakistan's air space was locked down at that time and airports (in India) were also on high alert. No one knew for how long the uncertain situation will prevail. So, a consensus emerged that it's best to shift the venue and India could host tournaments in future.”

After the Pulwama terror attack, in which more than 40 CRPF personnel were killed, India retaliated with an airstrike targeting a major terrorist training camp within Pakistan on 26 February. Pakistan's air space has remained closed ever since. In such a situation, the source said, logistics became a big issue for almost all the participating countries. PTI’s source explained, “Since the air space was locked, the flights had to take a detour, which meant an increase in cost and more travel time. For instance, Kazakhstan would have taken three-four extra hours to reach New Delhi in the prevailing situation. So there was a discussion among the International Tennis Federation, All India Tennis Association, Asian Tennis Federation and a few other stakeholders, and it was decided that for the time being, it was prudent to shift the venue. It's not that India is not a secure place but due to the uncertainty caused by the tension between the two neighbours, everyone felt that it's a fair call to take the tournament somewhere else.”

An ITF official told PTI, “I would like to inform you that the host nation decided to change the official venue to Bangkok. We were contacted by the ATF of the venue change for the Asia/Oceania final qualifying event.” However, AITA Secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee claimed they had failed to raise funds for the tournament. He said, “Raising funds for tennis tournaments is very difficult in this country. We had recently hosted the Davis Cup in Kolkata and now we are short of funds. The government also does not help so we informed the ITF that we can't host it.”

Indian shuttlers Lakshya Sen and Riya Mookerjee broke into the top-100 badminton rankings on Tuesday. Lakshya is now ranked 76th in men’s singles while Riya is ranked 94th among women's singles players.

Lakshya jumped a massive 28 places while Riya climbed 19 spots. Sai Praneeth, who took down Olympic champion Chen Long before losing in the final of the Swiss Open to China's Shi Yuqi on Sunday, also moved up three spots to 19th rank. The highest ranked Indian male badminton player is Kidambi Srikanth. His ranking remained steady at seven. He is followed by Sameer Verma, who is ranked 14th and HS Prannoy who is ranked 24th. Subhankar Dey is ranked 43rd, Parupalli Kashyap at 48, Ajay Jayaram at 52 and Sourabh Verma at 53 are the other men’s singles players from India in the top 100. Japan's Kento Momota leads the men's chart. Yuqi and Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tie Chen are in second and third place.

In the women's singles rankings, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal stay at sixth and ninth positions respectively. Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying tops the women's singles list ahead of China's Chen Yufei and Nozomi Okuhara of Japan.

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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2019 13:02:32 IST

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